Some quick numbers to talk about the impact of Dorial Green-Beckham's dismissal on the Missouri receiving corps:
* DGB averaged 8.9 yards per target last year as Missouri's No. 1 overall target -- not spectacular, but certainly solid. (He was barely No. 1: He was targeted with 99 passes, Marcus Lucas saw 94, and L'Damian Washington saw 90.)
* On average, No. 1 targets managed about 8.6 yards per target, No. 2s came in at 8.0, No. 3s 7.8, No. 4s 7.8, and No. 5s 7.0. In these terms, Mizzou was slightly ahead of the game at No. 1, behind at No. 2 (Lucas averaged 7.4), well ahead at No. 3 (Washington: 9.9), ahead at No. 4 (Bud Sasser: 8.2), and ahead at No. 5 (Jimmie Hunt: 7.2).
* It's fair to assume that DGB's per-target output would improve in 2014. First of all, it was higher in his freshman year (9.0), and there's still a decent amount of expected progression between a player's second and third seasons on campus. Plus, he was already used to seeing opponents' No. 1 corners. Maybe that natural progression would have been offset by struggles associated with a larger load -- with Washington and Lucas gone, it's easy to think that DGB could have crossed over 120 targets this fall -- but the odds are quite good that he'd have, at the very least, surpassed the national per-target average again.
* In the last two seasons, Sasser has averaged 8.5 yards per target, and Hunt has averaged 9.4. With DGB occupying the No. 1 spot, it's certainly conceivable that they could have replicated those strong numbers at No. 2 and No. 3, with Darius White (7.5 career yards per target) sliding in at No. 4. Missouri could have reasonably expected to exceed the national averages, then, at each of the top four spots.
* Without DGB, however, somebody has to move to No. 1. Sasser struggled with drops at times last year (especially against tighter coverage, as in the Cotton Bowl), and in two years he's produced just a 53 percent catch rate. Can he maintain a per-target average in the mid-8s against opponents' No. 1 corners? Is Hunt, who was used as a T.J. Moe-esque zone-breaker at times in 2013, ready for 90-110 targets (and the hits associated with that)?
* If Hunt is No. 1, does that mean a bit of a return to Mizzou's efficiency-heavy 2010 offense, which featured Moe, Michael Egnew, Moe, and Egnew as basically its top four receivers at times? Is that type of offense even an option with Maty Mauk, a low-efficiency, high-upside play-maker at quarterback?
* In last year's offense, L'Damian Washington was used aggressively on standard downs; the running game was strong enough to force defenses to adapt for that, and Washington was perhaps Missouri's best downfield threat. In his absence, which receiver is able to stretch the defense out in play-action situations? Darius White has the speed; is he ready to step up? What about Levi Copelin, who has had a nice spring and did catch a bomb in non-conference play?
* Even though somebody will have to lead the team in overall targets, it's safe to say that this receiving corps won't actually have a No. 1 receiver. It has three potential No. 2s, and a host of physical possession guys (evidently) in J'Mon Moore and Gavin Otte (and, in theory, incoming freshman Nate Brown). Plus, in Sean Culkin and Jason Reese, it has a couple of young tight ends who, almost by default, will need to get more involved. It has a lot of weapons for Mauk to exploit, especially against zone coverage. But there are quite a few experienced secondaries on the schedule this fall; who steps up when an opponent is effectively able to neutralize Sasser and/or Hunt? The answer to that question will determine how effective this offense is.
We know the running game will be good, and we know there is a multitude of options in the passing game. We also know that Missouri will have a born play-maker behind center, one who can extend plays until receivers get open and make things happen. But for this unit to work without a true star, all of these options have to play at a pretty consistent level, and specific individuals need to step up in specific games. And at this stage in the offseason, we have no idea who, if anybody, will.
Senior TB Marcus Murphy returned from an ankle sprain that limited him last Saturday, and scored three touchdowns, on rushes of 9, 9 and 3 yards. Murphy carried 9 times for 58 yards in all, with two of his scores capping drives in two-minute drill work. The final one, from 3 yards out, came with no time left on the clock for the #1 offense against the #2 defense.
With the scrimmage score tied up, the #2 offense marched downfield from their own 30-yardline in 2-minute work against the #1 defense, and appeared poised to score. Junior QB Corbin Berkstresser (who ended 13-for-22 passing for 110 yards) completed passes to sophomore TE Sean Culkin (12 yards), and two more to freshman WR J'Mon Moore (11 yards and 14 yards) to get the offense in striking distance. But with less than :20 seconds left, Berkstresser's attempt toward the endzone from 8 yards out was picked off at the goalline by Penton to end the day.
Mauk looked decent again, and he didn't take any sacks.
Everyone else looked pretty shaky, with overthrows, underthrows and throws teetering dangerously close to defenders abounding.
Berkstresser got picked off twice by Aarion Penton, one on a nice play Penton took off the turf and another on one that Berkstresser threw right to him. He also got away with another that he threw right at Kenya Dennis, but Dennis dropped it.
Berkstresser also got a series with the one offense, in which he threw three incomplete passes.
Mauk's best drive came in the two-minute drill, as he hit Levi Copelin (24 yards) and Jimmie Hunt (34 yards) back-to-back to set up a touchdown.
"We kind of have this curse of starting slow, but we came out and finished strong," Copelin said. "I feel like if we can get on top of that, we can be an even better team than we were last year."
It really does sound like Copelin's had a nice spring. If Copelin, White, and Sasser can get open on the second level of the defense while Hunt, Moore, Otte, tight ends, etc., pound away underneath, that can work just fine.
(Meanwhile, Copelin was quoted in a few places talking about the need to grow up and end "childish behavior." It's very good to see him saying that, since he's had a couple of "childish" issues of his own.)
Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson and receivers coach Pat Washington didn’t name names when they spoke to their collection of playmakers before Saturday’s scrimmage, but J’Mon Moore knew they were talking to him.
The message was simple: Dorial Green-Beckham is gone. The Tigers need other receivers to emerge.
"They didn’t really talk to me specifically, but they said some things that I took to heart and I knew they were referring to me," said Moore, a 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman. "I know I’ve got to step up." [...]
Mizzou reconfigured its first-team receivers Saturday, with senior Bud Sasser moving from the slot (Y) to Green-Beckham’s outside position (X). Sophomore Levi Copelin joined the top unit in the slot. Moore got plenty of action on the outside, too.
"Evan’s obviously improved from where he was a year ago, there’s no question about it," Missouri co-offensive line coach Bruce Walker said. "Most kids will because of their playing time.
"The challenge for Evan now is not to work to be the starting center. The challenge for Evan is to be the best center in the SEC. That needs to be his goal."
Does Walker think it’s an attainable goal?
"You bet your (rear), I do," he said.
Not surprisingly, Boehm feels the same way.
Currently atop the depth chart at left guard and right guard are Anthony Gatti and Mitch Hall, respectively. Gatti signed with Missouri in 2010 and began his career at tackle before moving over to guard last fall when Max Copeland suffered an injury. Gatti started one game at guard -- Indiana -- and has stuck at the position ever since. [...]
"You're all alone out there at tackle," Gatti said. "You don't have anybody looking for you. At guard, you have help inside and outside. That's pretty much the biggest difference."
"Tackle, you work by yourself," Gatti said. "You don't usually have that much help from the guard. Especially on pass pro(tection). You're sitting there by yourself which is hard, especially with the fast d-ends we have.
"But at guard, you stay firm and try to keep the depth in the pocket."
Communication is king in the interior of the line, and Gatti said that his friendship with Hall and center Evan Boehm helps that process.
"Finally, we get out there and we start playing around," Gatti said. "It's awesome. I think we have a lot of fun but most of the time we focus on getting better, and that's the most important thing."